A View of the World Through the Thoughts and Lens of Scott Kasper

Israel 2012

“Please be Safe!”

Technology is a wonderful thing…here I am in Jerusalem, several thousand miles and a few times zones east of home, and yet I can “chat” with my Mom through a virtual connection. We chatted for a while this morning and at the end of our conversation she typed “please be safe”.

I get it! Every mother wants her children to be safe. So many others have also typed those words in emails, Facebook posts and more. I absolutely appreciate everyone’s concern…but here’s the interesting thing…I feel safer here in Jerusalem than I do walking the streets of Center City Philadelphia!

I know, I’m in the Middle East and the news from this region is tumultuous at best. I get it. However, having watched and read Israeli news for the past several days, I can tell you that there has been more violence reported in New York City than there has been here in Jerusalem. Yesterday we returned from our excursion through the city and turned on the news to headlines of a mass shooting at the Empire State Building. My local South Jersey news is filled with similar stories every day…Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, is a war zone! Yet, when I say to someone that I’m heading into Philly for dinner, nobody ever says “be safe”.

On Thursday we ate lunch lunch at a nice open air cafe called Roladin. As we sat, an Israeli IDF soldier came walking in to eat with his family. This would have been essentially nondescript except for the fact that he was armed with a 9mm hand gun on his belt and a Tavor automatic assault rifle slung over his shoulder. This is not unusual, and frankly makes me feel more safe than any local police force in the US!

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The fact is that there are more important issues at stake here, and the street violence that takes place at home just doesn’t seem to exist. Yes, there is the constant background story of unrest in the middle east. Will the Israelis strike out against the threats coming from Iran? Perhaps, but if they do, it creates a global problem that could just as easily impact the east coast of the USA as it could impact central Israel. More importantly, no sense of increased situational awareness on my part can do anything to keep me from harms way should something like that occur.

Please understand, I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s concern for me and my family…those thoughts are greatly appreciated. But it is interesting perspective when you consider the every day relative risk that we don’t think twice about when we head into Manhattan or Philadelphia for an evening out with friends…I’ll take the Western Wall over the Empire State Building any day.

Today we explored the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Even from a Jewish perspective it’s completely fascinating. As it relates to what I’ve said above, this City is the religious epicenter of the planet. Perhaps it’s this religious base that helps maintain some of the sanity even though it is also the root cause of the conflict. To me, it is a never ending and amazing juxtaposition of ethics and morals. It’s been going on for thousands of years, and will likely continue for equally as long.

As we walked along the Via Dellarosa, which is the path Jesus took as he carried the cross to to spot of his crucifiction, we came across a tiny passage that led to some steps. The boys were hesitant to head off the beaten path, but I’ve watched enough shows on the Travel Channel to know that it’s off that path where one finds the best stuff. That proved to be true today. We came out into a small courtyard filled with tiny green doors. Who knows where they lead, but as you will see below, they made for some interesting photographs!

It’s rest time now. We’re heading out to a very cool show tonight at King David’s Citadel!

To anyone exploring a major US city today – please be safe! Enjoy some of my photos from today’s exploration.

The View from our apartment

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    Cool T-shirt! The red Hebrew letters spell Sponge Bob!
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SPECIAL EDITION: An important thing happened here!

I was thinking about the fact that a dreidel, in America, has the 4 Hebrew letters nun (נ), shin (ש), gimmel (ג), and hay (ה). They stand for the phrase “nas gadol hayah sham”, or “a great miracle happened there”. Here in Israel, the shin would be replaced with the letter po (פ) and it would mean “a great miracle happened here”. Simplified, the miracle refers to the Chanukah story in which the oil in the great temple burned for 8 nights when only expected to last one. That temple has since been destroyed. It stood atop the Temple Mount here in Jerusalem, currently home to the Islamic Dome of the Rock. The land surrounding that site was supported by huge walls, the western of which is now known as the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, or the Kotel. That will be the location of Ryan’s bar mitzvah on Monday.

While not all of them are miracles, important things still happen there (or here, depending on your geographic location). Each day at the Kotel, thousands of people stuff the walls cracks and crevasses with tiny folded notes of prayer. It is thought that this place is the closest place that one can get to God, and so leaving one’s personal prayers and pleas in this wall will more likely result in their being answered. Whatever your belief, this is an awe inspiring place to be. It’s a holy place, and to be able to stand at its base and know all that it represents in our tumultuous history is in some respects miraculous in itself.

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Today, an important thing happened here! There are now three tiny notes within the cracks of the wall asking for help for two important people and one important group of people. While I won’t necessarily reveal what is written on those notes, I want to tell their stories so that you can also keep them in your thoughts and prayers…in deference to a certain sister-in-law (I have 5 of them, so you’ll just have to figure it out) who called me verbose in an email this morning, I’ll be as brief as I can!

First, the group. I want everyone who is a part of my enormous family of those impacted by Type 1 Diabetes that I have asked for help! All the miles that I ride my bike, all the walks and galas, all the money raised may still not be enough without a little Divine intervention!

Second, Barbara Beitch, or Doctor Beitch as she’s known to those of us who are fortunate enough to have been taught by her, is my high school biology teacher. Dr. Beitch was extremely influential on me as I grew up, and will always be an incredibly important people in my life as a result. Tragically, over the pasts few years she has experienced more loss than most of us would want to imagine. Dr. Beitch’s first loss came more than a decade ago, when her daughter Debbie passed away. Her husband Irwin, also known as Dr. Beitch, passed away just a few years ago. Then, on August 5 Ricky, her son and a long-ago friend of mine, died suddenly at the age of 47.

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Last, but certainly not least is Uncle Barry….this one’s really hard! Barry Lang is Rachel’s uncle and ranks among the two funniest people that I have ever met in my life (Robin Williams is the other). More importantly, though, he is a most genuinely loving people and would do anything for any of us at any time! What Barry lacks in height, he more than makes up for in heart! He is truly a mensch! Over the past twenty years I have shared many experiences with Uncle Barry that I will never forget. Sadly, his battle with cancer may come to an end very soon, and I am compelled, while in this holy land, to leave a request on his behalf within the spaces of the wall as well. This note I’m choosing to share. Not the content…that’s between me and the Wall…but the placement, because I would like him and his family to see that we left it here for him! We all love you Uncle Barry!

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Three important things happened here today! That was our purpose and agenda. In completing that mission, we wandered the main streets and back ally ways of Jerusalem…he are a few more images that I captured along the way.

Look! I’m in a photograph! It’s proof that I did actually travel with my family…and I have to say that it’s a good looking family!

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Herb is looking quite chic with his murse!

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In the United States we have garbage can, recycle bins and dumpsters. In a land constantly under threat of attack, they have bomb receptacles instead! At least the historical society ensured that it was painted to blend with the surrounding landmarks of importance. This was seen just outside the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcre.

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Why the heck would anyone intentionally get boogers on their flute? I can honestly say two things about this…first, I have never seen this done before. Second, he was quite good!

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Greetings from Eretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel)

Well, we made it! It’s been a long day but we got to Israel, got settled into our apartment, and actually had an action packed first day! The fact that we are all still standing amazes me! Personally, I woke up at 03:30 AM on the morning of Wednesday August 22 and have been up ever since…as I write this it is 7:45 PM on Thursday August 23!

For some odd reason, this trip has started off remarkably smoothly. We were all packed and ready to go 24 hours in advance. We did not forget anything (of consequence, that is). Please understand that this is so far out of the norm for us. I’ll admit that I’m not a great traveler. I get easily stressed and it usually starts a week or so before we leave. That didn’t seem to happen this time, so we were off with a great start!

The flight was long! 9 hours 35 minutes and my movies in the seat back in front of me froze about half way through the flight. That said, we made it unscathed and arrived at Ben Gurion Airport at about 06:30 local time.

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Our apartment for the next week is awesome! As I write this I am sitting on the balcony listening to a concert playing off in the distance…somewhere toward the walls of the Old City. After we got settled,me went and found a place for lunch…nobody slept on the airplane, some were all extremely tired…Jake perhaps more than anyone!

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After lunch it was crash time…for some of us anyway…Rachel and her parents fell hard asleep, some took the boys to the pool here in the apartment building. After swimming for a few hours and realizing that we need to stay awake a few hours more, it was off to the Old City where we wandered the streets for a few hours, got some dinner and ice cream and then headed home.

There are a few noteworthy photos from our stroll. First, we all fell in love with the SPOVEL! It is the perfect utensil with which one should eat ice cream. It’s the size of a spoon, but shaped like a shovel! I’m not sure why these haven’t made their way across the pond to the USA.

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Second, please recall that I live in South Jersey, where our local farmers (that’s why it’s called the Garden State folks) grow the best sweet corn I’ve ever tasted. With that in mind, I have to say that tonight is the first time I have encountered a Corn on the cob vendor outside of the Burlington County Farm Fair! I will guess that his corn doesn’t match up to well with my hometown favorite. What I found most striking, however, is the tremendous contrast in color between the vivid yellow corn and the rest of the drab, beige surroundings of the Old City wall!

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Finally, I love walking the ally ways of the Old City markets. The colors, the smells (good and nasty!), the pushy vendors, and the amazing people watching! Check out the wonderful smiles on the women in the foreground as they try on various brightly colored scarves.

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As we walked back to the apartment, the streets were less full and we took our time, enjoying the cool, pleasant evening air. We’re all getting ready to hit the sack…I’m not sure what we have in store for ourselves tomorrow, but I know I’ll enjoy filling you afterwards! Here are a few more parting shots for the evening!

Shalom!

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10 extra credit points to anyone who can identify this famous landmark!

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We’re Heading Back: Israel 2012

It is with deeply mixed emotions that I write the first entry in the 2012 edition of my Journey to Israel blog. For any of you who may want to see the photos and read the thoughts that I shared two years ago, you can find it here: Israel Journey 2010

Why mixed emotions? Rachel, Matt, Ryan, Jake, my parents-in-law, and I are returning to Israel tomorrow to celebrate the bar mitzvah of my son Ryan. This is, in many respects, a Jewish parent’s dream! A little more than a year ago, as we started to plan the festivities related to this right of passage, Ryan declared that he wanted to become bar mitzvah in Jerusalem. We discussed this with him to make sure that he understood that we could not do both! He could not have this wonderful (and costly!) trip to Israel and also have a big blow out bar mitzvah like he is accustomed here in NJ. We asked him to think about it, and he did.

About 30 seconds later, Ryan declared that his preference was to return to Israel and read Torah at the Kotel, or Western Wall as you might know it.

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He read there once before. At the age of 10 he read Torah as a part of the ceremony we held in honor of the b’nai mitzvot of his brother, Matt, and cousin, Noah. He did a remarkably beautiful job reciting the small passage that he had taught himself…and apparently it made quite an impact on him and his sense of Judaism.

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So off we go. But wait…what about my parents, and my brothers, and Rachel’s siblings? What about Ryan’s 15 first cousins? What about the numerous close friends and other family members with whom we would have found great joy in celebration?

Here’s what I have come to realize. At the heart of it all, this is not about how I feel. It’s not about any of those important people in our lives who will feel disappointment in missing this occasion. It’s not about the money or the party after the service. At the core of it all, it’s about the fact that this young man feels so passionate about becoming bar mitzvah in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, that he is willing to sacrifice those celebrations for the opportunity to bond with the deepest roots of his heritage. How could we say no?

I had a feeling this would happen! In 2010, we were in Israel for three weeks. We stayed in a small village in Northern Israel near Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee or Kinneret), called Yav Ne’el. We lived in a very nice rental home and used it as home base for daily excursions around the country.

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One day I realized that Ryan had been wearing a Yarmulke (kippa) each of the previous several days, and as I noticed him placing it upon his head as we prepared to leave the house for the day I told him he didn’t need to feel obligated to wear it. “I know, Dad” he told me. “But it just feels right if I do!”

So, as much as I know that those who could not join us will miss this, and as much as I will clearly miss them, how could we deny this opportunity to Ryan? It will admittedly feel odd to be at my son’s bar mitzvah service without my parents, my brothers, Rachel’s siblings and their families, and others who are truly meaningful in my life. However, I am confident that we are giving my son a gift that will remain inside of him for eternity, and do so hoping that he will pass that gift along to my grandchildren some day as well! I hope, if that happens, that I will once again return to Israel to join them.

Stay tuned over the next 9 days, and join me and my family and we continue this journey. We are all extremely excited and have been looking forward to this trip for quite some time! I’m know that there will be many thoughts and photographs to share along the way…they will range from personal, to political, to religious, and more. Upon our return, those thoughts and images will be turned into a book that I will give to Ryan so that he will have a permanent record of his Dad’s perspective on this important journey!


From generation to generation!

It was the summer of 2010. My oldest son Matthew had turned 13 and completed his right of passage to Jewish adulthood by becoming bar mitzvah in our synagogue here in South Jersey. That was the first half of his journey, as he would soon thereafter read Torah at the Kotel, or Western Wall, in Jerusalem later that summer. My son Ryan, now almost 13 prepares to return to that same spot in Jerusalem where he will read Torah in just a few weeks from now.
Matt is my oldest and therefore my first son to have completed this journey. At the time I felt as though there is no way it could ever get better than the feeling I had watching him and listening to him as he developed from boy to young man right before my eyes.

Fast forward a few years…the journey begins again, and I have to say that I am experiencing the exact same emotions and thoughts…it’s déjà vous all over again as my middle son Ryan has officially started this journey of his own.
Why officially? He’s been studying (and I must say extremely well!) for months. He has mastered his service, his torah, his D’var Torah (speech reflective of what he has learned in studying Torah), and more. So why has his journey officially begun? To understand that, I have to bring you back 31 years. When I was taking this journey, my dad started what I have now passed along to the next generation…and hope that my sons do the same…we say l’dor v’dor…from generation to generation.

Every young bar mitzvah student requires a few items before the big day arrives, namely a yarmulke, a Tallit (prayer shawl) and Teffilin. When I was 12 years old and preparing to become Bar Mitvah (which in Hebrew literally means son of the commandments) my dad took me on a pilgrimage. We loaded ourselves in the car and headed to Yankee Stadium!

Okay – important clarification for any of you who have come to know me as the consummate Boston sports fan – I grew up in Southern Connecticut where sports allegiances are evenly split between Boston and New York. My dad was and remains a New York sports fan. In addition, 1981 Yankees had a roster that included some of the all time great players and personalities of baseball history…Goose Gossage, Tommy John, Lou Pinella, Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson and more. We went to a double header…I have no idea who they played…I just know that I’ll never forget the double header at Yankee Stadium with my dad!

Before the game, however, we went to Manhattan’s East Side where pickle barrels on the street, kosher delis and judaica shoppes were abundant. We went into a shoppe where an older man with a skull cap, thick white beard, and heavy eastern European accent helped us pick out the Tallit and yarmulke that I would wear in synagogue on my big day.

At the time, to me, this part of the day was just an errand. It was something we needed to do just like we needed to buy my suit and get some new shoes. It was watching Reggie Jackson come to home plate that was more important to me at the time!

Fast forward to the spring of 2010. There was no way that my son Matt would take his journey to becoming bar mitzvah without first taking a journey to a baseball game and judaica shoppe with his dad…and of course his grandfather! Given our allegiances to Boston sports, we made the trek from South Jersey to Fenway Park and the judaica shoppes of Brookline, Massachusetts. I venture to guess that it was a trio Matt will never forget.

Now it’s Ryan’s turn. We’re here in Boston again and he’s loving every minute of it. He’s an avid soccer fan, so the New England Revolution was the sporting choice of the trip. This morning we will head to Brookline with my dad and we will get Ryan the items he will need for his Jewish life.

Here’s the more important task for today – we will hopefully instill in Ryan the desire to make this pilgrimage 30 years from now with one of his children. The religious aspect is important, and shouldn’t be diminished. However, the simple tradition is far more important…l’dor v’dor…from generation to generation…it’s simply good stuff!

Stay tuned to this blog…it will continue with stories and photos from our upcoming journey to Israel…we can’t wait and hope you’ll enjoy coming along with us…